To be left without savings and housing overnight. Thousands of Belarusians found themselves in such a situation: deceived during equity construction. In 2013, it seemed to be over. The government passed laws aimed at eliminating massive housing construction fraud once and for all.
But in this investigation, we discovered new schemes by which unscrupulous apartment sellers continue to deceive people, despite the seemingly unbreakable new laws. Among the indirect beneficiaries of the fraudulent schemes were respectable businessmen and people from Alexander Lukashenko’s inner circle.
In 2016, Valeria Shevchik decided to buy an apartment in house number 9 in Smorgovsky tract street. Construction was nearing completion, and the developer Belstroymontazh no longer had apartments available. An acquaintance of Valeria’s advised to contact the contractor ALC Kopinstroy that carried out works at that facility. The contractor received apartments in this house as payment for construction work – this is a common practice.
In Kopinstroy’s office, Valeria signed an agreement with Andrey Krauchanka (Andrey Kravchenko), who called himself the owner of the company, and with director Mikhail Barsukov (Mikhail Barsukou). The document was entitled Preliminary Contract for the Purchase and Sale of Real Estate.
Such a document is not subject to mandatory registration with the Minsk City Executive Committee. But this did not bother Valeria, a qualified lawyer, since the object in which she wanted to buy an apartment was recognized as long-term construction and was under the control of the Minsk City Executive Committee. This circumstance was a guarantee for the woman.
“The house, which is under the control of the Minsk City Executive Committee, is in long-term construction, it was in all the news. Only a very short-sighted person will dare commit some kind of a crime there,” thought Valeria signing the contract.
The woman transferred over US$ 40.000 to the Kopinstroy account. And six months later, in February 2017, she found out: besides her, several more buyers had transferred money to Barsukou and Krauchanka for the very same apartment.
“A group of equity holders was created in Viber. And people just messaged who owned which apartment. We were just checking the lists. And I see that there is a different surname against my apartment number,” says Valeria.
The equity holders began to turn to law enforcement agencies, but they refused to initiate a criminal case. The investigation only began in January 2018. The investigation lasted almost 1.5 years.
To withdraw the stolen money from the Kopinstroy account, the head of the company held so-called founders meetings, being their sole participant, and issued loans to himself or to Barsukou. Subsequently, the fraudsters would withdraw this money in cash from the bank.
We found Kopinstroy’s former director andAndrey Krauchanka’s equally former friend , Mikhail Barsukou, who had also appeared in the criminal case, but did not go to jail. Here is how Mikhail explains where the equity holders’ money, which he had withdrawn in cash from the bank, went to:
“Usually like: well, the salary should be given to the employees. Come in, take it out, the accounting department will prepare the documents. Well, I would come by, take it out, and give everything to him. And then he commanded further. Workers would come, those who really needed money, and he would then distribute. What’s next then? All financial activities – he conducted everything himself, didn’t specifically report to anyone. How, where to, what… I wasn’t in charge of transferring wages. My business was to take it out and give it.”
For fraud, Andrey Krauchanka was sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, in reality, the citizens’ interests were not protected even after the sentencе – the stolen money was not returned to them. The fraudster has been behind bars for about two years, and the victims have been left with nothing for the fifth year running.